While you Slumber, When you Sleep; Beware!! Your Foe Comes as a Thief

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First Sergeant
Aug 6, 2016
A soldier’s always fighting, a soldier never rests,
a soldier never finds a place to lay his weary breast.
For if he falls in slumber, if he falls asleep,

his enemy is coming as quiet as a thief.

Edwin Henry Stoughton June 23, 1838 – December 25, 1868
(Public Domain)
Brigadier General Stoughton thought he was clever and could catch a ghost. Regrettably, on March 9th, 1863 the Gray Ghost was to catch him while he slept at his headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Without one shot being fired, John S. Mosby approached the sleeping Stoughton catching him in his nightshirt and captured him. It didn’t help any when President Lincoln heard at the time of his capture, Mosby also got possession of 58 Union horses, to which the president quipped: "he did not so much mind the loss of a brigadier general, for he could make another in five minutes; 'but those horses cost $125 apiece!” {1} Brigadier General Stoughton’s military career was over.

Meanwhile, not too far away, there was another soldier that was sent running into the night clad only in his nightshirt. Lt. Colonel Robert Johnstone of the 5th New York Cavalry knew something was wrong when he heard a ruckus outside his window at the William Gunnell House where he was sleeping. Leaning out a window, the 37 year-old began to yell for quiet, until he realized these were not Union soldiers. Fortunately he was there with his wife who managed to delay the Confederates long enough for her husband to run and hide in “a place it is not necessary to describe” under the outhouse. {2} The only thing lost was his hat and uniform. By the way, his wife would not touch him until he bathed and he earned the nickname “Outhouse Johnstone”. He resigned from the U.S. Army in December 1863.

* * * * *


Cadwallader Colden Washburn
April 22, 1818 – May 14, 1882

(Public Domain)

Shortly before his 44th birthday C.C. Washburn became the Colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry. The former 3-term congressman served as the representative from Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district, yet he’d also be remembered for the street sign in Memphis, Tennessee today marked as “General Washburn’s Escape Alley”. Thanks to CSA General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Washburn was awakened when Forrest came looking for him. Washburn was forced to flee in his nightshirt leaving his uniform and sword behind. They would be returned to him the next day under a flag of truce.

* * * * *


Joseph Jackson Bartlett
November 21, 1834 – January 14, 1893

(Public Domain)

There is this report that Joseph Jackson Bartlett barely escaped the clutches of JEB Stuart. Although they managed to take the headquarters’ flag, they could not stop Bartlett as he fled “wearing only night clothes”. {4}

* * * * *


Hugh Judson Kilpatrick
January 14, 1836 – December 4, 1881
(Public Domain)

No tale of a run in a nightshirt would be complete without including perhaps the most famous “The Kilpatrick Skedaddle”. {5}

* * * * *


Benjamin Franklin Kelley
April 10, 1807 – July 16, 1891

(Public Domain)
In 1861, Benjamin Kelley grabbed Jesse McNeill’s father’s (John Hanson “Hanse”) wife, daughter and young son and put them in a “detention” camp in Ohio with the hope to stop the raiding by the McNeill’s. It did not work. The family was soon released, but the McNeill family held a grudge against Kelley. When Jesse’s father died he took over as commander of “McNeill’s Rangers” and planned his ultimate revenge. On February 21, 1865 his Rangers the headed to Cumberland, Maryland and in the “middle of the night” they quietly entered the headquarters and grabbed General Kelley from his bed. As an additional bonus, Kelley’s immediate superior was also taken from his bed. Both men were in their nightshirts and were allowed to dress. They managed to capture them while evading Union cavalry and delivering them to Confederate General Jubal Early.

The other Union General​


George R. Crook
September 8, 1828 – March 21, 1890

(Public Domain)
An interesting footnote to this story: The Rangers could have captured another former Brigadier General and now a United States Representative as well as a Captain that were in town - James A. Garfield and William McKinley, as well as another soon to be famous gentleman Rutherford B. Hayes. {6}

* * * * *

Even the future Commander-in-Chief could not avoid being seen in his nightshirt as is portrayed in this cartoon, published to illustrate his harrowing ride through Baltimore on the eve of his inauguration.


"Passage Through Baltimore”. President-elect Lincoln
Adalbert J. Volck, 1863

(Public Domain)

If the enemy finds his foe, he’ll drag him off the bed,
the captive quickly dressed as off to prison he is led.
Or the hunter may not be lucky, his prey is more alert,

and manages to run away just wearing his nightshirt.

* * * * *

1. https://ironbrigader.com/2010/07/22/john-s-mosby-captures-general-edwin-stoughton/
2. http://www.historicfairfax.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/HFCI1001-2013.pdf
3. https://qconline.com/news/local/c-c-washburn-founded-general-mills-studied-law-in-rock/article_5c1e48da-11ba-55e9-8380-2effa1f44251.html
4, https://civilwartalk.com/threads/composure-in-crisis-joseph-jackson-bartlett.158743/
5. https://civilwartalk.com/threads/9-21-18-bonus.149685/
6. “George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox”, by Paul Magid
7. Civil War Blunders, by Clint Johnson, pages 279-281
8. Wikipedia - Baltimore Plot
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